Factories step up efforts to prevent harassment, violence at work in Indonesia

5 Sep 2022

Whenever she passed by the warehouse while at work, 25-year-old Indah Dwi Madina said she always felt annoyed whenever she received “catcalls” – the act of whistling, shouting or commenting of a sexual nature typically to a woman passing by.

“At the time, I couldn’t accept that treatment. But I was alone, and those people who were catcalling me are a bunch of men, so I walked straight ahead even though I felt disturbed and threatened,” said Indah, a legal officer in PT Leetex Garment Indonesia.

Indah spoke about her discomfort with a close colleague, who is a member of the factory’s Respect team. The Respect team is composed of worker-manager committee members to implement prevention measures against workplace violence and harassment and is part of Better Work Indonesia’s Respectful Workplaces Programme (Respect), launched in 2018. As of 2022, Respect has been rolled out in more than 70 Better Work Indonesia’s factories partners, with the support of the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) since 2021. The programme has trained over 200 participants where 57 percent of the participants were women.

As a result of Indah’s outreach to the Respect team, the company took action. The factory’s sustainability chief, Muhidin Nursy, and his team pasted posters near places where harassment and violence could potentially take place, including the warehouse where Indah was catcalled, to increase more awareness.

In addition to posters, the factory also held trainings and “roadshows” to campaign against violence and harassment at work, and participated in a recent Better Work Indonesia visual design competition to spread information on the issue. Innovative approaches to awareness raising have now become integrated into the factory’s work culture, noted Nursy, smiling, “We will hold more roadshows even after the competition.”

Another Better Work Indonesia partner factory, PT Sumber Bintang Rejeki in Semarang, Central Java, has also demonstrated its commitment to preventing harassment and violence at work.

The factory’s compliance manager, Rudy Gunawan, indicated that it implements policies and procedures based on ILO Conventions, including Convention 190 on eliminating violence and harassment at work. It was thanks to participating in Better Work Indonesia’s Respect Programme that this new Convention was integrated in the factory’s policies and procedures. For Gunawan, such efforts are especially important for the factory since 90 per cent of its 4,300 employees are women. And the benefits of the Respect programme are a win-win for workers and for business. “By implementing the Respect programme our productivity has increased. It also has eased recruitment within a highly competitive hiring market. At the same time, this initiative has decreased the absenteeism rate in our factory to 0.9 percent.” Gunawan added.

As part of a comprehensive approach, Gunawan’s team has mapped out the risk in each of the factory’s buildings, allowing them to focus on high-risk areas to prevent harassment and violence. The factory also provides preventative training to its managers and supervisors on harassment and violence at work. In an effort to further spread awareness, Gunawan’s team uses posters, competitions and “street quizzes” –held at the end of the workday at the factory’s exits for a chance to win chocolates, face masks and other small gifts.

The factory has also established worker-manager “Respect” teams, and this year, it aims to have a counselling corner. “Workers highly trust our committee members, so even if something would happen, they will immediately tell our Respect team,” Gunawan said, adding that employees can also fill out an online form to file any complaints with the knowledge that they will be evaluated seriously.

However, Gunawan has seen that training the factory’s own employees is not always enough. In 2013, a female employee experienced sexual harassment when a worker from an external construction company contracted by the factory directed inappropriate attention repeatedly at her.

Many employees witnessed the incident, and a group of co-workers accompanied her to the Human Resource Department, where they knew that appropriate action would be taken. The factory also ensured that the employee had access to counselling and accompanied her during breaks until she felt comfortable going to the canteen by herself. In addition to ensuring the dismissal of the guilty party, the factory then conducted awareness raising sessions for all other construction workers on its premises as a complement to its existing initiatives for staff. This procedure was adapted from the Better Work Indonesia’s Respectful Workplace Programme training.

However, building capacity and implementing training to prevent violence and harassment at work still presents challenges for Gunawan. Conflicting schedules during high season complicate training arrangements, for instance, which has pushed Gunawan to adapt – developing an online portal where workers can access their chosen training modules on their smart phones.

“As a company, we are always learning,” said Gunawan. “We will continue to learn, and we need the support of all parties to do this.”

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Keep up to date with our latest news and publications by subscribing to our regular newsletter.